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OUS professors study effects of energy drinks

Published 11:21pm Saturday, November 13, 2010

You see college and high school students drinking them all the time. High-caffeine energy drinks are quickly becoming the beverage of choice for many college age and adolescent students. The promise of extra energy mixed with appealing product names and packaging draws this group to the product and that is exactly what the company intended.

Some of the companies are known to market their product by giving it away at local sporting events and on college campuses.

The growing popularity and consumption of high-energy drinks like Monster Energy, Rockstar, Red Bull, Full Throttle, and Four Loko could be cause for concern.

The energy drinks seem harmless, but what students and others should know is, if consumed in high amounts or combined with alcohol, they can quickly turn dangerous.

This year, nine students at Central Washington University and 23 students at the Mahwah, New Jersey campus were hospitalized with alcohol poisoning (one nearly died) after drinking the brand Four Loko, a 12 percent alcohol energy drink.

The caffeine masks the intoxicating effects that would normally trigger the body to pass out. Students are alert but more intoxicated, resulting in students drinking more than they normally would.

Consumers must educate themselves by looking for the “per serving” amount of caffeine or other stimulants listed on the product. Some energy drink cans contain two servings which, when consumed doubles your intake. Keeping track of your body weight and the amount of caffeine and other chemicals they are consuming is the first defense against preventing adverse side effects. Just because energy drinks can be purchased over the counter by people of all ages, we should not assume that drinking them in high quantities is safe.

Nicole Pennington, MSN, RN, the director of nursing at Ohio University Southern has researched the effects of energy drinks on young adolescents.

“The added energy spike they receive, coupled with the rate of consumption has grown to become a public health issue for this younger generation of students” says Pennington.

Pennington and fellow Nursing Department colleagues Molly Johnson, MSN, RN, PNP, Elizabeth Delaney, MSN, RN, ARNP and Mary Beth Blankenship, MSN, RN, ARNP recently co-published the feature article “Energy Drinks: A New Health Hazard for Adolescents” in the October 2010 edition of the SAGE Journal of Nursing, a highly cited journal for health care professionals.

Parents, teachers, pediatricians and school nurses are reporting the ill-health effects energy drinks are having on this age group.

What started out as a quick caffeine boost has now escalated to jitteriness, nervousness, dizziness, the inability to focus, difficulty concentrating, gastrointestinal upset and insomnia, according to Pennington’s research.

According to the article, energy drinks were first introduced to the market in 1987. These stimulant drinks typically contain caffeine, guarana, sucrose, glucose, taurine, glucuronolactone, and B vitamins.

Caffeine is the main ingredient in the drinks and the main stimulant that affects the body by jolting the central nervous system. The energizing effect comes from the caffeine’s ability to block adenosine from signaling the brain that the body needs to rest. Consuming high levels of caffeine can lead to adverse health effects such as anxiety, increased blood pressure, and accelerated heart rate.

The article states that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does recommend that beverages contain no more than 65 mg of caffeine for 12 ounces.

Most soft drinks fall into this suggested limit; however, energy drinks contain much higher amounts of caffeine are not required to have labeling that discloses the amount of caffeine because they are marketed as dietary supplements rather than beverages. The FDA does not have the authority to require warning labels on the drinks. It is up to the manufacturer to ensure the product is safe.

Pennington chose the topic after she noticed her own children becoming interested in these types of beverages. She felt it was important to do research in this area to determine what the specific health effects resulted from the consumption. After completing a comprehensive literature review, it was evident that an educational program was needed.

“Education is the answer to reach students at an early age. Just as we have educated our children on the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, we now need to educate them on the negative health effects of energy drinks.” Pennington states.

Pennington is currently in the process of designing an evidence-based change project to increase adolescents’ knowledge of the dangers of energy drinks.

She plans to meet with local middle schools and high schools in Appalachian Ohio and Kentucky to educate students on this important topic.

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